Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann ( R-Minn.), center, arrives at a breakfast before the GOP Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa, Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“What we saw happen today is this is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012, and you have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president,” said Bachmann (R-Minn.) after her victory was announced.

Bachmann took 4,823 votes, narrowly escaping a major upset at the hand of Texas Rep. Ron Paul who won 4,671 votes. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty placed third with 2,293, a showing that is likely to raise questions about his ability to continue in the contest.

The order of finish beyond the top three: former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (1,567), businessman Herman Cain (1,456), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (718), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (567), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (385), former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (69) and Rep. Thad McCotter (Mich.) (35).

Perry, Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman did not actively campaign in Ames. Nearly 17,000 vote were cast, the second-largest turnout in the history of the Straw Poll.

For Bachmann, the victory solidifies her as the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses which are set to kick off the presidential balloting process in early February 2012.

Bachmann entered the poll as the favorite, as polling suggested that her popularity was surging in the state and Romney chose not to participate in an event he won in 2007.

Taking no chances, Bachmann saturated Iowa with television ads in the run-up to the Straw Poll and barnstormed across the state in the final days before the vote. (On Friday, she did five events, including an evening rally in which she threw cornballs into the crowd and jitterbugged with her husband, Marcus, onstage.)

On site at Ames, her operation had the whiff of disorganization in its early hours as people formed long lines to get into her tent — where country singer Randy Travis was performing.

But the sheer numbers of Bachmann supporters became apparent as the day wore on. Lines and crowds stayed constant around her tent while the crowds ebbed away from Pawlenty’s site.

It was not immediately clear how Pawlenty would handle his disappointing third-place finish. He and his campaign team had done everything they could in advance of the Straw Poll to lower expectations. But the former Minnesota governor needed a spark in Iowa — and nationally — that he had hoped the Straw Poll would provide. Finishing behind Bachmann and Paul will make raising money a near-impossibility.

Pawlenty’s path will be further complicated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race on Saturday. Polling suggests enters the contest in second place behind Romney nationally.

Perry is scheduled to visit Waterloo on Sunday — his first stop in Iowa as a presidential candidate. Bachmann, too, will be in Waterloo, the town where she was born, on Sunday in what amounts to a victory lap.

With Romney not expected to campaign aggressively in Iowa over the coming six months, Bachmann’s win in Ames strengthens her hand considerably. Perry appears to be the most serious threat to her supremacy in the state, but the Bachmann team now has the benefit of a dry run in the state before the Feb. 6 caucuses.